Zambia Urged to Declare Emergency After Worst Drought Since 1981

The British government urged Zambia to declare a food emergency to allow donors to provide assistance after the worst drought in nearly four decades hit farm output and left millions of people facing hunger.

A Southern Africa Development Community report last month forecast 2.3 million Zambians will be food insecure by March, after large parts of the southern and western areas of the country received the lowest rainfall since at least 1981. Over the same period, the report forecast Zambia would have an 888,000-ton cereal deficit.

The government says it has enough corn, the staple food, to last until the next season and won’t need to import.

“The situation warrants it,” High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet said in response to emailed questions Thursday after meeting with Zambia’s vice president to call for an emergency declaration. “We need collectively to move quickly.”

Average retail prices for the corn flour that Zambians consume at most meals are already the highest since at least 2003, according to data from the national statistics agency. In July, prices were 41% higher than the same time last year, helping to push inflation to 8.8% -- the highest since November 2016. The government is considering ways to bring prices down, President Edgar Lungu said Thursday.

“We may have to look for the most radical measures,” he said in remarks broadcast on state radio. “We are worried.”

A spokeswoman for Zambian Vice President Inonge Wina didn’t respond to two text messages and a call seeking comment on whether the government will declare a national emergency.

Zimbabwe, the nation’s southeasterly neighbor, has already declared an emergency and is seeking $331.5 million in humanitarian aid to prevent hunger after drought and flooding curbed farm output.

The Catholic Church in the country has launched a food appeal through relief agency Caritas Zambia, according to Vatican News.

“The only responsible way to address the situation is not to bury our heads in the sand,” Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretary-General Cleophas Lungu said in the Vatican News. “We must face the truth, and the truth is that people need help.”

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